There are myriad challenges in starting a business from your home. Just getting the infrastructure in place to conduct business can seem like a daunting task, much less actually creating a successful operation. Fortunately, the proliferation of cloud services has been a boon to small businesses. Everything from legal services to phone and fax to computer backup can now be done over the Internet. Not only does this make these services more convenient and quicker to set up, but they are also usually much cheaper and easier to use.
At NextAdvisor.com, we’ve tested and reviewed many of the best cloud services for small businesses. Here are some of our top picks to get your home-based business up and running quickly and inexpensively:
The legal aspects of setting up a business can be confusing, and hiring a lawyer can be costly. Deciding on the optimal legal structure can have enormous tax and liability implications down the road, so there are some critical choices to make. Fortunately, online legal services have made the process simple, painless and cheap. These services can help you determine the best structure for your individual situation, then walk you through the set up, file the paperwork and provide you with any additional legal documents you might need, all for a low fixed price. If you are looking for a more long-term option, some of the services charge a monthly fee for full access to their legal document library and other features, as well as discounts on local lawyers that can help you with any more complicated legal issues you have.
In most cases, VoIP (a.k.a. Internet phone service) is much cheaper and more efficient than regular phone service. For example, ATT’s price for unlimited local and long distance calling for business is $45/line each month, which doesn’t include add-ons. Leading business VoIP providers offer plans for less than $20 month that include a wide range of free features like conference calling, voicemail to email transcription, call-forwarding and call-hunting, and an auto-attendant for answering and routing calls. The best part is that most of these services don’t require a contract so you can cancel or change your plan at any time.
The fax machine seems like a vestige from the ancient technology past that should have gone the way of its contemporaries like the floppy disk and the black and white monitor decades ago. Yet all too often, either sending or receiving a fax is essential to getting business done. Luckily, the cloud has eliminated the need for bulky and expensive fax machines. Internet fax services are cheaper, greener and far less of a hassle. No separate phone line is required (don’t worry – you still get your own fax number). Incoming faxes go directly to your email as PDFs or other file types of your choosing. You can send outgoing faxes however you like, including directly from documents on your computer, from pictures snapped with your smart phone or scans from your printer.
Financing Your Business
If you walk into a bank and ask for a loan to get your small business started, you’re likely to get laughed out of the building. Yet go online and apply for one of the bank’s credit cards? If you have good credit, you’ll probably be approved. Business credit cards have provided the initial funding to millions of businesses. The right card will give you both the most rewards for your expenses and a nice 0% intro APR, which functions as an interest-free loan. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that most of the consumer protections for credit card holders required by the CARD Act, such as limits on fees and increased interest rates, do not apply to business credit cards. And since you’d have to provide a personal guarantee on your new business’s credit card anyway, you may want to consider getting a personal credit card to use for business expenses.
File Backup and Storage
Losing files or even entire hard drives can mean the loss of months or more of hard work, something any new business can ill afford. Online backup is an easy, hassle-free way to keep all of your company’s important files in the cloud. You don’t have to purchase any hardware or worry about remembering to back things up. Your files are securely uploaded to servers in the cloud while you’re doing your normal work – it all happens in the background. Starting at just a few dollars a month, this is cheap insurance for your valuable files.
Even if your business has nothing to do with the Internet, potential customers will want to check out your web site, so you should probably have one. Fortunately, these days web hosting providers make setting up your site simple and cheap. Even if you don’t know anything about web design, many hosts have great web site builders for novices that can help you get a professional-looking site up quickly. And you can do it all for less than five dollars a month, including the cost of buying a domain, which is free with many leading hosts. Your best choice for a host will depend a lot on your needs, so some good web hosting reviews will be helpful in making the best selection. At NextAdvisor.com, we looked at the top web hosts and rated them on everything from price to average uptime, about which we’ve collected over three years of data.
Mailing and Shipping
Yes, even those dreaded trips to the post office can be replaced by the cloud. Online stamps services let you buy and print your own custom postage and shipping labels. Better yet, if you just need to contact your customers, an email marketing service can help you deliver messages for practically nothing.
Starting a business from home is hard, but don’t make it harder than it has to be. Take advantage of the ease of use and cost savings that the Internet can offer for some of the basic services your business needs. You’ll be left with more time and more money to spend on the other things that really matter.
If you've been looking for an excuse to start your own website, this is a good one. HostGator is currently offering their web hosting services for 51% off, but only for today, so make sure you take advantage now. All you need to do is click to HostGator from the link in our review and use the coupon code OHSNAPPY to get the 51% off deal.
HostGator is one of our top-rated sites, especially for more advanced users, because of all the features that they offer. The service is cheaper than most web hosts, at only $2.44/month (after the 51% off) and offers unlimited storage and data transfer, as well as unlimited email addresses. It has a 45-day money back guarantee and offers some of the best customer service in the web hosting business. For more advanced users, HostGator offers both Linux and Windows operating systems, as well as the largest number of compatible programming languages.
To take advantage of the deal, check out our review of HostGator here.
A: There are a few web hosting services that allow you to use a wide range of programming languages, as well as other features that advanced users might be looking for.
HostGator: This is your best option. Not only does it include PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, CGI, SSI, and ASP in its programming languages, but it also offers the best uptime and response time of any other web host we reviewed. It also is one of the few hosts that offers both Windows and Linux operating systems and offers unlimited MySQL databases. And at just $3.71/month with the NextAdvisor discount, it is a hard web host to pass up.
Network Solutions: For sheer number of programming languages, Network Solutions is the best. It is compatible with PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, Java, Zend,CGI, SSI, JSP, ASP, and .NET, which is more than any other web hosting service that we reviewed. It also allows both Windows and Linux operating systems, and includes 25 MySQL databases. Network Solutions uptime and response time aren't as good as HostGator's, but it is cheaper at just $2.99/month with the NextAdvisor discount.
HostMonster: HostMonster is our highest rated overall web hosting service, as it offers a wide variety of great features for a reasonable price. HostMonster is compatible with PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, CGI, and SSI programming languages and offers unlimited MySQL databases. It only offers Linux operating system compatibility, but does include Shell access. At $3.95/month with the NextAdvisor discount, HostMonster has the biggest bang for your buck of any of the web hosting services that we reviewed.
To check out all of our web hosting services reviews and see which programming languages each offer, check out our compare page here.
Looking to create your own website or launch your business this spring? HostGator is offering NextAdvisor readers 30% off their web hosting services, as well as $1 off the purchase of any domain name. That is 30% off your first invoice, so if you sign up for a 3-year plan instead of a 1-year plan, you will save more. Just click on the link from our HostGator review and use the coupon code SPRING30 at checkout.
HostGator is one of our top-rated sites, especially for more advanced users, because of all the features that they offer. The service is cheaper than most web hosts, at only $3.71/month (before the 30% off) and offers unlimited storage and data transfer, as well as unlimited email addresses. It has a 45-day money back guarantee and offers some of the best customer service in the web hosting business. For more advanced users, HostGator offers both Linux and Windows operating systems, as well as the largest number of compatible programming languages.
To check out our full review of HostGator or to take advantage of the 30% off deal, click here.
A: Most web hosts are compatible with WordPress, making your decision a little easier. The only major web hosting service that doesn't allow you to install WordPress on it is Yahoo Web Hosting, along with Intuit web hosting, which we don't recommend. Every other web hosting service that we review allows you to install WordPress onto your site.
If you have other specific requirements in mind, you can use our web hosting chooser to find the right web host for you, but here are the web hosting services that include WordPress that we recommend based on different criteria:
Best Bargain: FatCow. This web host has the cheapest monthly price at $3.15/month on their web hosting services. FatCow also includes unlimited storage and data transfer, a free domain for 1 year, and unlimited email addresses.
Best for Beginners: HostMonster. HostMonster uses the cPanel interface, which is one of the easiest to use. It also includes SimpleScripts add-ons and Shopsite Wizard for easy e-commerce.
Best for Advanced Users: Network Solutions. If you need more advanced web hosting, try Network Solutions. It has the highest number of compatible programming languages, as well as unlimited MySQL databases and both Linux and Windows operating systems.
Fastest and Most Reliable: HostGator. With the 3 and half years of data that we've collected on uptime and response time, we have found that HostGator is the fastest and most reliable web hosting service that we've reviewed. It has an average uptime of 99.98%, compared to the average 99.84%, and a response time of .257 seconds, which is much faster than the average for web hosts at 0.596 seconds.
To check out all the web hosting services that we review and to compare them all side by side, check out our compare page here.
As two of the most popular web hosting services that we review, we thought it would be a good idea to do a side-by-side comparison of GoDaddy and Network Solutions to see which web host is the best overall. Here's a quick breakdown of some of the hosts' most important features:
Price: Network Solutions web hosting costs $2.99/month with our NextAdvisor discount, where GoDaddy costs $3.99/month. Network Solutions also offers a free domain for 10 years, while GoDaddy charges $9.99/year for a domain. Network Solutions also gives you an unlimited amount of domains, where GoDaddy only offers one.
Features: Network Solutions is far and above the better choice when it comes to features, especially if you are a more advanced user. GoDaddy doesn't offer any MySQL databases and doesn't allow any programming languages. Network Solutions on the other hand offers 25 MySQL databases and a slew of programming languages, including PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, Java, Zend,CGI, SSI, JSP, ASP, .NET. Network Solutions also allows you to install WordPress on your site, where GoDaddy does not.
Reliability: GoDaddy actually has a great record when it comes to uptime and response time. Based on our 42 months of data on both web hosts, GoDaddy has an average uptime of 99.97%, while Network Solutions has an average uptime of 99.75%. GoDaddy's response time was an average of .174 seconds, where Network Solutions has an average response time of .579 seconds. So GoDaddy is much more reliable and quick.
Customer Service: Network Solutions offers email, phone and chat options for customer service, where GoDaddy only offers email and phone. Both services are good at answering any questions you may have.
From top to bottom, Network Solutions is the better choice for web hosting. If you are looking to host a small site without a lot of bells and whistles, you can use GoDaddy, but we still recommend taking a look at Network Solutions as a better value. To read our full review of both services or to compare them side by side, check out our web hosting compare page here.
Two of our favorite web hosting services have a lot to offer anyone looking to build a website, but which is the best for web hosting? It depends on what you are looking for. We take a look at what makes each host unique and how they compare in several key areas of web hosting.
Price: Both web hosting services come with many of the same features, including unlimited storage and data transfer, unlimited email addresses and a free domain for 1 year. Since their features are so comparable, it's easier to compare their value based on their price. FatCow is only $3.15/month with our NextAdvisor discount, where HostMonster is $3.95/month with our NextAdvisor discount, making FatCow a much better value.
User-friendly interface: Both web hosts have simple interfaces that most beginners should feel comfortable with, although they are not as simple and easy as some of the other web hosting services that we review. Both hosts have the Weebly Drag and Drop site builder, but HostMonster uses the popular cPanel interface, while FatCow uses the vDeck interface.
Uptime and Response Time: Having a website that is quick and reliable is an important feature for anyone, so how do HostMonster and FatCow compare when it comes to uptime and response time? HostMonster has a much better average uptime score with a 99.83%, while FatCow scored a 99.77%. As far as average response time, FatCow blew HostMonster out of the water with .449s, compared to HostMonster's .746s.
Ecommerce options: If you are a small business or plan on selling things from your website, having a strong and easy ecommerce tools is key. FatCow has an easier ecommerce solution with the add-on ShopSite, while HostMonster offers Agora cart, which is not as intuitive as ShopSite. HostMonster does offer a ShopSite add-on, but you have to pay for it.
Customer service/tech support: One of the most important features of any web host for beginners is customer service and tech support, especially if you've never built a website before. Both services offering 24/7 phone and chat support and also offer email assistance. FatCow also offers premium support if you want to pay a little extra for the additional service.
Bottom line, if you are looking for a cheap service that is good for beginners but doesn't come with all the extras, you should check out FatCow. If you are a more advanced user who values things like uptime and shell access, then HostMonster is the better choice. To check out a more detailed comparison of HostMonster and FatCow or to compare them against some of the other web hosting services we review, check out our web hosting compare page here. If you are looking for a web host with specific features, check out our Web Hosting Chooser here.
Q: I'm looking for a web host that has great uptime because I can't afford to have my site go down. Which is best?
A: You've come to the right place. NextAdvisor has logged 3 and half years of uptime data from all the web hosts that we review to find out which web hosts have the best uptime rate.
What is uptime? In web hosting terms, uptime is the average amount of time that a website is up and available to users. Twitter's Fail Whale would be an example of when a site is down, which would hurt Twitter's uptime rate. If a web host server never goes down (which is highly improbable due to power outages, server glitches, etc.), then the website's uptime would be 100%.
How did we get the data? We signed up for each of the web hosting services and built a test website with each one of them. We then used a third party tracking site to see how often those test sites go down, giving us the years of data we now use to compare the different web hosts' uptime.
So which web hosting services have the best scores? HostGator and 1&1 web hosting have the highest uptime average, with 99.98%, which means they almost never go down. Lunarpages and GoDaddy are a close second with a 99.97% average uptime. And Yahoo Web Hosting comes in a close third with a 99.96% average uptime. To give you an idea of how well these site perform, the average for all web hosts is 99.85%, so each of these web host's performs are well above the average.
To check out what each web host's uptime rate is, head over to our web hosting compare page here.
Q: I wanted to sign up for Yahoo web hosting but didn't know how much it cost. Do you know?
Yes, but the cost depends on what you are looking for. Yahoo has three different plans to choose from depending on the size of your site, and the pricing differs for each one. Here's the breakdown:
Basic: The Basic web hosting plan is just that, basic. It offers only 100 GB of disk space, 1000 GB/month of disk transfer, 10 site pages, and 250 email addresses. For the basic service for one year, Yahoo charges $4.99/month. If you sign up through NextAdvisor, you can get 25% off the first 3 months, bringing the price down to $3.74/month. If you sign up for a 3-year plan, you get the service for $2.99/month for the first 3 months, and if you sign up for a 5-year plan, you can get it for as low as $2.62/month for the first 3 months.
Advanced: The Advanced web hosting option gives you 500 GB of disk space and 5000 GB/month of disk transfer, along with 500 email addresses. It also gives you unlimited site pages. For the advanced service for one year, Yahoo charges $7.99/month. If you sign up through NextAdvisor, you can get 25% off the first 3 months, bringing the price down to $5.99/month. If you sign up for a 3-year plan, you get the service for $5.25/month for the first 3 months, and if you sign up for a 5-year plan, you can get it for as low as $4.49/month for the first 3 months.
Premier: Yahoo's Premier web hosting plan offers unlimited disk space, disk transfer and site page limits, making it the best option for larger websites. It also offers 1000 email addresses. For the premier service for one year, Yahoo charges $11.99/month. If you sign up through NextAdvisor, you can get 25% off the first 3 months, bringing the price down to $8.99/month. If you sign up for a 3-year plan, you get the service for $7.50/month for the first 3 months, and if you sign up for a 5-year plan, you can get it for as low as $6.74/month for the first 3 months.
To check out our full review of Yahoo Web Hosting, click here.
Need a little extra spending cash for the summer months? We are giving away a total of $500 to 4 of our lucky Google+ followers! We will be drawing 4 winners over the course of a month. The first winner, picked March 22, will win $50. The second winner, picked on March 29, will win $100. The third winner, picked on April 5, will win $150. And the last winner, picked on April 12, will win $200. You must follow all instructions below to enter. Good luck!
First, follow us on Google+:
Next, answer a few questions for us:
(OPTIONAL) Enter your email to sign up for our newsletter
Terms and Conditions for NextAdvisor $500 Giveaway
- To be eligible, participants must fill out the survey by the closing date, April 11, 2013 at midnight PST.
- No purchase is necessary to participate in this contest. Participants who don’t have Facebook or Internet access can send a postcard with their name and address to 1110 Burlingame Ave. Suite 201, Burlingame, CA 94010
- Anyone over the age of 18
- Each participant may enter only once. All additional entries will be disqualified
- Participants must be citizens of the United States and must have a valid ID and U.S. mailing address to apply.
- Contest opens: March 13, 2013
- Contest closing: April 11, 2013
- Drawing of winner: March 22, 2011; March 29, 2011; April 5, 2011; Grand Prize: April 12, 2011
- There will be a $50 prize (March 22), a $100 prize (March 29), a $150 prize (April 5) and a $200 prize (April 12). (All prizes are in USD.)
- The Sponsor and Promoter of this Contest is NextAdvisor Inc.
- Participants may not be employees of NextAdvisor, connected advertising and promotional agencies and their respective affiliates and associates or such employees' immediate family members and persons with whom such employees reside.
- NextAdvisor retains the right to extend or alter the contest including closing date without prior notification.
- Incomplete entries will be disqualified.
- Proof of identity must be produced on request.
- Decision of the winner is final. No correspondence will be entered into except with the winning entrants.
- By claiming the prize, the winners authorize the use, without additional compensation, of his or her name for use in promotional/advertising efforts in any medium (including and without limitation, radio broadcasts, newspapers and other publications in television or film releases, slides, videotape, and distribution over the internet) which NextAdvisor may deem appropriate.
- In accepting the prize, the winner acknowledges that NextAdvisor may not be held liable for any loss or damage associated with accepting or using the prize.
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- Any false information provided within the context of the contest by any participant concerning identity, mailing address, telephone number, email address, ownership of rights or non-compliance with these or the like may result in the immediate elimination of the participant from the contest.
- NextAdvisor reserves the right in its sole and unfettered discretion at its sole discretion to choose winners.
- NextAdvisor further reserves the right to disqualify any entry that it believes in its sole and unfettered discretion infringes the rights of any third party, otherwise does not comply with these Official Rules, or violates law.
- NextAdvisor further reserves the right to disqualify any participant who tampers with the submission process or any other part of the contest. Any attempt by a participant to deliberately damage any web site or undermine the legitimate operation of the contest is a violation of criminal and civil laws and should such an attempt be made and NextAdvisor reserves the right to seek damages from any such participant to the fullest extent of the applicable law.
- NextAdvisor reserves the right at its sole discretion to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the contest.
- This contest is subject to all federal laws of the United States of America. These rules shall be governed by, subject to, and construed in accordance with federal laws. If any provision(s) of these Rules are held to be invalid or unenforceable, all remaining provisions hereof will remain in full force and effect.
Disclosure: NextAdvisor.com is a consumer information site that offers free, independent reviews and ratings of online services. We receive advertising revenue from most of the services we review. Our editors thoroughly research and whenever possible test each service we review and offer their honest opinions about each one. We are independently owned and operated and all opinions expressed on this site are our own.